45,000 of the Yaeyama Islands' 50,000 inhabitants live on Ishigaki Island, which is thus the political, economic and transport hub of the region. Most people on the island live in central Ishigaki, known for lack of a better name in Japanese as shigaichi (市街地 "town area"), chushin (中心 "center") or just machi (町 "town"). The central districts are Ōkawa (大川), Ishigaki (石垣), Tonoshiro (登野城), and Misakichō (美崎町) and the main roads are Sanbashi-dōri (桟橋通り), leading north from the port, Shiyakusho-dōri (市役所通り), running west-east along the coast, and Yui Road (ゆいロード), running parallel a few blocks north.
Other (though much smaller) population centers on Ishigaki are Kabira (川平), by the bay of the same name on the northwest coast, and Shiraho (白保), at the southeast corner. Much of the island, particularly the central mountains and the scenic northeastern peninsula, is quite sparsely settled.
Ishigaki Airport (ISG) is the largest airport in the Yaeyama Islands. In March 2013 the old airport was closed and a new airport - farther out of town and with a longer runway - was taken into service. As a result there have been major changes to the flight connections: in addition to regular connections to Naha and Miyako, an increased number of direct flights from/to various airports in Japan has become available, and between April and October there are also direct flights from/to Taiwan's international airport at Taoyuan, near Taipei (2 airlines with 2 flights a week each). The new airport can accommodate larger airplanes than the old airport, and therefore two additional domestic carriers (Skymark and Peach) have joined the original two carriers (JTA and ANA) - as a consequence, air fares are now substantially lower than before (for example, outside of the peak travel times a return ticket to Naha can be had for less than 10000 Yen). The bus connection from the airport to the bus terminal at the center of town (next to the ferry terminal) costs about ¥550, and the trip takes about 40-50 minutes. Multi-Day Passes for the bus system are also available (see Get around). A taxi trip to town will cost you about ¥3000. Since 2016 SEP, there are direct flight to Hong Kong by HKexpress, and in March 2017, there are direct flights on most days between Hong Kong and Ishigaki.
There is currently no scheduled passenger ferry connection to Ishigaki Island: Ryukyu Kaiun discontinued passenger service in September 2007, and Arimura Sangyou went out of business in May 2008. Star Cruises  operates luxury cruises from Keelung (near Taipei) between late April and the end of October. Although this is not a ferry service, rumour has it that relatively cheap passage can be bought at the last minute on trips that are not fully booked.
There are extensive services (daytime only) to the other islands in the Yaeyama group:
- Taketomi (¥580, 10 min), departures every 30 minutes
- Iriomote Ōhara Port (¥1540, 40 min) and Uehara Port (¥2000, 50 min; summer months only), departures roughly hourly
- Kohama (¥1030, 30 min), departures roughly hourly
- Kuro (¥1130, 25 min), 5 departures daily
- Hateruma (¥3000, 70 min), 7 departures daily
Prices and times above are one-ways on fast ferries and may vary slightly from company to company. Return fares are usually 10% cheaper. Slower service with regular ships is somewhat cheaper but connections are less frequent:
- Hateruma (¥3000, abt. 2 hours), 1 departure per day (weekdays only)
- Yonaguni (¥3400, 4-5 hours), 2 departures weekly
Ishigaki Port (石垣港) is located at the center of the city near the bus terminal. There are two parts: the central Ritō-sanbashi (離島さんばし), for services to nearby islands, and a second unnamed pier at the southeast corner of the port for long-distance services to Yonaguni and Hateruma. The port information office is next to Ritō-sanbashi pier 1.
Azuma Bus operates services throughout the island radiating from the bus terminal on Sanbashi-dōri, just across the street from the port. The most useful services connect to the airport (¥540) and Kabira (¥700).
Two multi-day passes are available for frequent bus users: a 5-day pass ("Michikusa Free Pass"; whereby "free" in Japanese means "can be used freely" and not "free of charge") for ¥2000 and a 1-day pass for ¥1000. Both passes can be used on all scheduled buses.
Note that while bus service from the city center to the airport and along the southeast coast of the island (as far as Shiraho), is regular and quite frequent (it starts at 6:30am, and then there is a bus leaving every 15 minutes between 7am and 9pm), service on the other lines is not really geared toward tourists, and if you are staying outside the urban part of Ishigaki you may want to rent a scooter or car for the duration of your stay. With careful planning, however, the bus will get you around the whole of the island and let you visit Kabira Bay or the famous snorkeling area at Yonehara Beach for a few hours' stay. At the bus terminal you can get a detailed bus schedule in English that covers all bus lines except the recently established loop line in the downtown area (staff at your hotel or guest house should be able to tell you whic hstops to use and at what time). The downtown loop line has been in service since October, 2013. At least once every hour a bus leaves the terminal to service the downtown area and the adjacent areas to the west (Arakawa, Makira) and the east (Hirae, Maezato). The flat fare is ¥200 per trip. (Fares may possibly go up, since the sales tax was increased on April 1, 2014.)
Taxis are available at the airport, at the ferry terminal, and in front of some of the larger hotels. For other locations, the best way to get one is to make a call to the radio dispatch system that most companies are part of. The dispatchers usually do not speak English, so you may need to ask someone at your hotel or guest house to make a call for you. Flagging a taxi down in the street is perfectly OK but rather unreliable - most taxis that pass by, especially on minor roads, are on the way to an appointment. The only exception is in the late evening hours in the downtown area, because at that time you can see many taxis slowly cruising the streets around the drinking establishments looking for passengers. Flag fall is around ¥450 (it varies depending on the type of car), and the meter ticks at alarming speed after 2 kilometers. (Fares may possibly go up, since the sales tax was increased on April 1, 2014.)
There are many car rental companies in the island and many hotels offer car rental at a discounted price from ¥2000 to ¥4000 per day. Inquire at your accommodation. A drive between Ishigaki and the furthermost point of the island is about an hour and a half. A note of caution: the recent increase in tourist numbers, following the opening of the new airport, means that even outside of the peak season there are days when no car can be had - if it is important that you have a car you may want to book one in advance.
Intown free parking is not available except for the being a customer to shops and businesses, paid parking starts with 500 yen. If you are willing to walk a little further, parkings will be available at 100 yen per hour (2017 March)
Many hotels offer bicycle rental at about ¥500 per day. Bicycles can be taken in most ferries to the islands at an additional price.
The town area can be comfortably covered on foot, but you'll need another means of transport for the rest of the island.
Ishigaki is a little low on must-see attractions and somewhat tamer in terms of scenery than Iriomote. Most visitors hit the beaches of the northern coast and stay there.
Ishigaki's beaches are among the most spectacular in Japan.
- Kabira Bay (川平湾 Kabira-wan). At the northwest corner of the island is this stunning emerald blue bay with a perfect yellow-white beach, dotted by craggy islands — but no swimming allowed, so the closest you can get is a glass-bottom boat tour (¥1000, 30 min). You can walk along the coast from bay to bay, but beware of the fast-moving tides that may trap you if you dally too much in the evening.
- The best free landside views are from Kabira Park (川平公園 Kabira-kōen), a promenade complete with viewing pavilion that stretches along the coast above the beach itself.
- Sukuji Beach (底地ビーチ), 2 km west of Kabira. One kilometer of white sand beach, equipped with changing rooms, showers, toilets and other essentials. The view from the beach is stunning and on a clear day Uganzaki lighthouse is visible in the distance. The sea is the shallowest to be found on any of Ishigaki's beaches, which is great if you fancy a relaxing paddle in the ocean, but swimmers should look elsewhere. Trees at the rear of the beach provide partial shade from the sun throughout much of the day.
- Yonehara (米原). Offers nice sand and better coral reefs within easy snorkeling distance. Indeed, the reef begins within meters of the beach and hosts enough life to interest experienced snorkelers and beginners alike. Caution should be taken however as Yonehara's rip currents are notoriously strong. Signs in the parking area describe which areas should be avoided. There is a campsite located behind the beach with the facility to rent gear.
- Tōjinbaka (唐人墓), Tōjin no haka stop on the Kabira Resort Line. This ornately decorated Chinese-style "Tang People's Grave" commemorates the sorry fate of some 400 Hokkien Chinese coolies, who mutinied and ran aground on Ishigaki on their way to California. Pursued by the British navy and American slavers, those captured were killed, so many headed into the mountains where they starved or committed suicide, and only a lucky few were taken under the wing of friendly locals and protected.
- Nearby is also a newer (2001) bilingual monument of angular concrete, dedicated to three Americans shot down over Ishigaki in April 1945, during the closing days of World War II. After being captured and tortured, two were beheaded and one was used for bayonet practice, and monument duly notes that such things are not fair play according to the Geneva Convention.
- Kannonzaki Lighthouse (観音崎灯台 Kannonzaki-tōdai). A little lighthouse on a little cape, not open to the public but there's a little park and viewing pavilion next to it. Not worth much of a detour but conveniently located across the road from Tōjinbaka.
- Kannon-dō Temple (観音堂). Rounding out the trio of low-key attractions around Tōjinbaka is this quiet Okinawan-style wooden temple, with a grand lantern-lined staircase but little to see when you get there. The toilets, however, are kept in excellent shape.
High visibility water around the island is full of coral reefs and marine life, making scuba diving the most popular activity for tourists in Ishigaki. The island has been ranked the number one Japanese diving destination for more than 16 consecutive years. In particular, Manta Scramble and Manta City, just off the island's northwest coast, is known to have one of the highest encounter rate of manta rays, and large number of divers visit the island during April-November, when the dive area is accessible. There are a large number of dive operators and rates are more or less standardized at around ¥12000-14000 for two boat dives (not including gear rental).
- Prime Scuba Ishigaki (Prime Scuba Ishigaki), Maezato 345, Ishigaki, ☎ 0980-87-5980, . 8:00-17:00. Quality bilingual dive operator, specializing in full day dive cruise around Ishigaki and surrounding islands. Free transportation in the city area. Visa/MC/JCB/Amex/Discover accepted.
- Umicoza (海講座), Kabira, ☎ 0980-88-2434, . Friendly dive shop that also caters to English-speaking divers. Two dives ¥12960, full gear rental ¥5400. Free transfers from anywhere on the island, Visa/MC/Amex accepted.
- Viking Scuba Kabira, Central Kabira, ☎ 0980-87-6430, . Local shop that offers small diving groups and has English speaking staff. Two dives: ¥12960, full gear rental ¥4860. Free transport from Ishigaki City and Kabira area. Visa/MC/Amex accepted.
- Tom Sawyer, ☎ 0980-83-4677, . This diving shop has a branch at the ferry terminal and offers diving courses, diving, snorkelling and underwater sightseeing cruises. A double dive is ¥13,500 and full diving rental is ¥4,000.
- Hanalee Adventure Tours, [email protected], ☎ 09031986472, . Offering jungle zip line tours around the base of Omoto mountain on Ishigaki. Snorkeling trips on board a 43 foot sailboat or via kayak from the beach. Sunset or nite sailing cruises. All tours conducted in Japanese and English by a native English speaker. Hotel pickup and dropoff in the Ishigaki city area included.
- Ji Yu Jun, [email protected], ☎ 0980870728, . Not a Scuba Diver? Just looking to have a day out on a boat, island hop, and do a bit of snorkeling? Check out Ji Yu Jin tours, a small business run by Nao who lived in Australia for a while, and speaks fluent English. They also take an underwater camera on the tour, so get a free CD of photos of your day out at the end.
Souvenir shops abound, particularly around the port. On the more standard items (such as beni-imo tarts) prices appear to have been standardized, with the same prices offered at the supermarket, downtown, or even at the airport. The exception is Ayapani Mall (あやぱにモール), a covered shopping arcade just west of the post office, at which certain stores offer a store-wide 10% discount.
- Ishigaki-shi Tokusanpin Hanbai Center (石垣市特産品販売センター), Ayapani Mall 2F, Okawa 208, . This city-sponsored retail center sells only authentic Ishigaki-made products, ranging from handicrafts to food items.
- Tezukurikan Kōbō Uminchu (手作り館工房海人), Misakichō 4 (Sanbashi-dōri just south of port), . Home of the ubiquitous Uminchu T-shirts worn by approximately half the local population. A vast variety of designs from ¥2625.
- Yashiya ("ヤシ屋",), "", (Next to Tōjinbaka). This little factory-shop cooks up tasty cane sugar candy, sold on premises for ¥500 per cake. You can also view the making process, which basically consists of mashing up sugarcane and then boiling the juice until it turns into brown sugar candy.
- Koubou Tumeya (工房夢屋), ☎ 0980-83-8201 ([email protected]), . Shīsā (シーサー) is a traditional Okinawan decoration, often found in pairs, resembling a cross between a lion and a dog. This workshop makes Shīsā using traditional materials from the island. A visitor (of any age) can also make a Shīsā with a step-by-step guidance from the staff.
- Aoqua Ishigaki Snorkeling and Seakayak Tour Guide (石垣島シュノーケリング・シーカヤック アオクア), 148-3 Fukai, ☎ 050-3133-1390, . 5. Snorkeling and Sea-kayak touguide in northern part of Ishigaki. ¥10,000-. (24.455744,124.224426)
There are plenty of eating options in central Ishigaki, although many of the fancier places are open only for dinner. The stretch of Sanbashi-dori between the piers and the bus terminal has a good selection of reasonably priced Okinawan places, most of which offer affordable set lunches.
- Banna (ばんな), Misakicho 1-8 (On Sanbashi-dōri opposite bus terminal). Okinawan izakaya that also offers reasonable set meals, open 9 AM to midnight. Try their goya champuru set for ¥750.
- Beach, Okawa 209 (Inside Ayapani Mall). This friendly stucco-walled beach café trapped in a mall offers the Okinawan speciality taco rice in both "standard" (Mexican-ish) and "original" (Asian chicken) versions for ¥800 with tea/coffee or ¥1000 with a draught Orion beer. Open 11:30 AM to 10 PM daily.
- Kafka, Corner of Ayapani Mall. One of the very few places where you can get a coffee and a sandwich before 10am. 2nd floor of a building directly behind the Yaeyama Post Office. Open daily from 9 AM
- Māsan-dō (まーさん道), Shiyakusho-dōri. Specializes in Yaeyama soba, ¥500 for a basic bowl, ¥800 for the sōki version with a big hunk o' pork on top. Add your namecard to the vast collection on the walls. Open daily from 11 AM to 9:30 PM.
- Paikaji (南風), (Near the main post office). A nice izakaya. Good space, good food. Open 5 PM to 12 PM (Closed Sundays).
- Mugiwarabōshi (麦わらぼうし), Misakicho 3-2F (Above bus terminal). Even locals come here for Yaeyama soba (¥400+). Generously sized set lunches from ¥700. Open daily except Monday from 10 AM to 9 PM.
- Taniwha (カフェたにふぁ), Ohkawa 188 (About 50m north of Yui Road (walk up between 'P-Time Pachinko' and the car rental shop)). A bit old-fashioned, but the owners are very personable and can speak some English. Cakes, Japanese style curry, and sandwiches for ¥400-500. Open Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon to midnight. Web:
- Uechi Jersey Bokujō Soft Cream Hanbaiten (上地ジャージー牧場ソフトクリーム販売店), Okawa 281-2 (on Yui Road), ☎ 090-9571-6750. This is the place to sample milk-flavored ice cream, made only from the milk of local Ishigaki cows. ¥300 per cone, open 11 AM to 7 PM daily.
A hint for shoe-string budget travelers: food is generally not cheap in Japan, but food hygiene rules are strict and certain kinds of foods that spoil easily come with "sell by..." expiry dates. Therefore supermarkets offer items that are about to become unsellable at a discount (20-50%), depending on the urgency (especially in the evenings). Decent quality prepared meals (bento, salads, etc.) as well as sashimi, sushi, and milk can therefore at times be had at a considerably reduced price if one is prepared to go shopping later in the day.
Ishigaki's beef (石垣牛 Ishigaki-gyū) is meltingly smooth and well worth the splurge for meat lovers, although you'll generally be looking at around ¥5000 for something approximating a decent-sized steak. Sampling strips served as yakiniku or even raw sashimi is somewhat more affordable, but if the price seems too good, double-check that it's real Ishigaki beef, not a cheaper import.
- Kinjō (金城), Hotel Peaceland 1F, Misakichō 11-1 (south end of Center-Dori). The lunch-only ¥2500 steak teishoku set with 150g of Ishigaki beef to grill by yourself is one of the better deals around, especially when washed down with some Ishigakijima beer. Offers half-price dinner on the first day of the month, but you will have to stand in line for a good hour as that is a very popular night with locals in the know. Open daily 11:30 AM to 3 PM for lunch, 5 PM to midnight for dinner. Kinjo also has other branches around town.
- Hitoshi (ひとし), ☎ 0980-88-5807. An izakaya that specializes in tuna fish. Their tuna sushi and sashimi are something to dream for. There are two branches in town. This is a very popular eating place so it is best to book ahead. (24.33995,124.15942)
Ishigaki has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife, mostly centered around izakayas offering the ubiquitous local firewater awamori. Also be sure to sample the local Ishigakijima Beer (石垣島地ビール) microbrew, now available in "marine" (lager), "kuro" (dark) and three other versions.
Misakichō Center-Dōri (美崎町センター通り) and nearby streets have a range of karaoke lounges and nightclubs of varying degrees of respectability. Outside the city, however, there is little to no nightlife of any kind and you'll be hard pressed to find even a restaurant open after 6.
Ishigaki has a wide range of accommodation, ranging from expensive resorts for ¥10000+ to backpacker-oriented minshukus that can go as low as ¥2500 for your own room or ¥900 for dormitory-type accommodation. The dormitory style accommodation (one type of "guest house") offers the greatest likelihood of making friends with other travelers, in the common spaces (even among the Japanese travalers there are almost always some who can speak English).
Camping: The campsite on Yonehara beach charges roughly ￥600 per person per day (as of June 2009). The campsite owner does not provide tents,and although some of Ishigaki's official tourism websites tell you that a camping licence is required, the owner of the campsite has actually bought the licences himself and provides them when you pay to camp. Camping on Yonehara beach is a very cost effective option for staying on Ishigaki. Some camping equipment is available at the 100 Yen Shop (upstairs at Maxvalu on Sanbashi Dori) and the 5 day bus pass is definitely recommended if you're going to be camping for a long time, since there aren't many shops near to Yonehara beach and the best supermarkets are on the other side of the island.
- Rakutenya (楽天屋), Okawa 291, ☎ 0980 83-8713, . ]Two rambling old wooden houses run by an affable if eccentric English-speaking couple, ¥3000 per night gets you a private room with free laundry and internet. The catches are that air-con costs ¥100/hour and only the newer wing (別館 bekkan) has mosquito nets.
- Mariudo (ペンションまりうど), ☎ 0980-83-0513, . Rooms come with TV, air conditioning (very, very important in summer) and cheap rates at 1800 yen per night. The owners are extremely friendly and so are most of the guests. Excellent place to make traveling friends. Located next to the outer islands ferry termnial, it serves as a great hub for day trips throughout the Yaeyama Archipelago. No internet.
- Yashima Youth Hostel. A short walk from the Small Boat Harbor in Ishigaki city, this hostel provides basic Japanese-style dormitory rooms for around 2500 yen per night. The male dormitory room is busier than the female one which can be a plus for women traveling alone. The staff are extremely hospitable. Breakfast and internet included. Nightly (free) awamori (traditional Ryukyu alcohol).
- Churayado Cocochan (美らやどココちゃん), Ishigaki 155-1, ☎ 0980-88-6373, . ¥2500 per night gets you a private room with TV and free Internet. The catch is that air-con costs ¥100/three hours. There is an associated scuba diving shop.
- Yaima Biyori (やいま日和ペンション), . A clean, spacious "pension" style hotel,¥2400-3300 per person per night. Unique wooden decor and a number of amenities: free laundry (¥100 for dryer), ¥100 for 4 hours of air-conditioning, free bottled water, luggage storage and very friendly staff of varying English levels. The owners' daughter was formerly of the Japanese band Bubblegum, and there are appropriately a number of acoustic guitars available throughout the building. Located approx. 2 minutes by foot from the bus terminal in the entertainment district. There is a grocery store about 30 seconds away.
- Amant Terrace (Amant Terrace, あまぬてらす), Arakawa 2431-13, . The owner has lived in the US and speaks English.
- The multicultural guesthouse Ai no Yado (あいのやど) closed in the summer of 2015; the owners appear to have relocated to Canada.
- The popular Yanbuzeena Hostel (ヤンブジーナ) in Okawa and the associated small restaurant (“Yarabu Shokudo”) closed at the end of 2012.
- Club Med Kabira, . One of Japan's two Club Meds, this swanky resort offers beautiful views of Kabira Bay. Last stop on the Kabira Resort line.
- Auberge Kabira (formerly B&B Kabira). Small and friendly hotel right on Kabira Bay, this place does good though expensive food in the evening. Rooms are a little small but they do offer free bike rental. Closing permanently on February 28.
There is free Wi-Fi access in the Euglena Mall (aka Ayapani Mall), the covered arcade a few blocks away from the bus terminal, and preparations are under way to establlish similar internet coverage for the whole Misaki-chō area.
There is also free internet in the public library, though it's only available from one terminal (the library is closed on Mondays)
An internet and game center further to the west along Nigousen (#2 Rd., open 24h), across the street from the temple (Tourinji), is open 24 hours.
Vanilla Deli, directly across from City Hall has free internet for patrons.
The Ishigaki City Hall Tourism Division (市役所観光課) as well as the Ishigaki City Hall International Section (国際交流係) have good information in English for tourists. The business hours for the city hall are 8:30am-4:30pm Monday thru Friday (excepting holidays). The tourism division is located on the second floor, and you can pick up a free comprehensive English language guide (magazine) there. The International Section is on the first floor, in the back of the building, and employs a coordinator of international relations, fluent in both Japanese and English, who is at times available to assist non-Japanese tourists.
The Hirata tourist company located inside the ferry terminal also has English information and can arrange English tour guides. Native level English information and tour guiding can be arranged through Ishigaki Hanalee Eco Tour. You may also want to pick up copies of the free Ishigaki Town Guide or Yaeyama Navi pamphlets, both useful packs of information with lots of maps to show you around (note that both are in Japanese only and any listings inside are essentially paid ads, so not everything is listed). You can get these free pamphlets at City Hall and in many restaurants, shops and lodgings.
Foreigner-friendly ATMs can be found in Japan Post Offices and Family Marts (extra fee). The main post office atm section in Ishigaki is open weekdays 8:00 – 20:00, weekends and holidays 8:30 – 15:00. The other smaller offices have different opening times. Generally, weekdays 8:45 – 17:30, Saturday 9:00 – 12:30 and closed Sundays. Family Mart provides 24h service but charges an extra fee. You can find a map of ATMs on Visit Ishigaki.
The "Habu" box jellyfish, which is highly venomous and can be dangerous to humans, can be found in the waters surrounding Ishigaki, including the beaches and bays. Some beaches are enclosed by nets inside which swimmers can frolic jellyfish-free, but snorkeling areas or many of the unofficial beach areas do not have nets.
Unlike other species of jellyfish, Habu jellyfish can swim consciously rather than simply drift. Habu jellyfish are attracted to warm, relatively calm water, which surrounds most of Ishigaki's coastline inside the barrier reef. They are clear in color and therefore difficult to spot unless you are paying close attention.
The best method of protection is to wear a rash guard, sleeves, or pantyhose so that the stingers cannot make direct contact with the skin.
Ishigaki and the surrounding islands also have other dangerous aquatic creatures, such as crown-of-thorns starfish, stonefish, etc. Please read up separately on this, and try not to touch any creatures or step on anything in the water other than sand.
- Iriomote — an hour away by boat, offers mangrove jungles and the elusive Iriomote wildcat
- Taketomi — just 10 minutes by boat, known for its well-preserved Ryukyu village
- Yonaguni — 30 minutes by plane or 4 hours by boat, the westernmost point of Japan offers mysterious ruins and diving with hammerhead sharks
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